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Accountants in Practice

Employment status



A number of different working arrangements have developed over the years, allowing more flexibility at work. There are three main types of employment status.

  • Employee.
  • Worker.
  • Self-employed.

An individual's employment rights will depend upon whether they are an employee or worker (the self-employed have very few employment rights).

Key points

  • Employees have more employment rights than workers, so if a right applies to a worker it also applies to an employee.
  • Workers are entitled to certain employment rights such as the national minimum wage and paid annual leave.
  • Apprenticeships are work-based  training programmes which lead to a nationally recognised qualification.
  • Volunteers carry out unpaid work for organisations such as charities or fundraising organisations.
  • Students are often required to go through an internship as part of their education.


An employee will work to the terms within a contract of employment, and will carry out the work personally. A contract exists when terms such as pay, annual leave and working hours are agreed. Although the contract doesn't have to be written down to be valid it is best to record the main terms and conditions of employment in writing.

Employees are entitled to a wide range of employment rights, including all those to which a worker is entitled.

Examples of employee rights include:

  • written statement of employment
  • itemised pay slip
  • the National Minimum Wage
  • holiday pay, maternity and paternity pay etc
  • the right to request flexible working hours
  • the right not to be discriminated against.


A worker will also work to the terms within a contract of employment and generally have to  carry out the work personally. However some workers may have a limited right to send someone else to carry out the work, such as a sub-contractor.

Workers could include:

  • casual work
  • agency workers
  • freelance work
  • seasonal work
  • zero hours work.

Workers are entitled to some employment rights including:

  • the National Minimum Wage
  • holiday pay
  • protection against unlawful discrimination
  • the right not to be treated less favourably if they work part-time.

Self employed

A self-employed person will run their own business and take responsibility for the success of the business. Self-employed people are more likely to be contracted to provide a service for a client. They will not be paid through PAYE and don't have the same employment rights and responsibilities as employees or workers. However, a self-employed person:

  • still has protection for their health and safety on a client's premises
  • in some cases will be protected against discrimination
  • will have their rights and responsibilities set out in the terms of the contract with their client
  • in general will not have right to holiday pay
  • may in limited cases be self-employed for tax purposes but classed as a worker or an employee for employment rights.

Agency workers

An agency worker is supplied by a temporary work agency to a client/hirer to carry out work for the client/hirer. The work is normally for a temporary period.

The Agency Workers Regulations give agency workers the right to the same basic working and employment conditions they would receive if directly engaged by the client to do the same job.


School leavers can still leave school at 16 in England and Wales but must continue their education until they are 18 which could include becoming an apprentice. School leavers in Scotland can still leave school without going into further training.

Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes which lead to nationally recognised qualifications. Apprentices normally attend  local colleges or specialist training providers on a day release basis as part of their training. Depending on the level, apprenticeships can take between one to four years to complete.

Apprentices under 19, or 19 years and over in the first year of their apprenticeship, are entitled to be paid the apprentice national minimum wage. However, employers can pay a higher rate if they choose to. Once an apprentice reaches 19 years and has completed the first year of the apprenticeship the employer must pay the full national minimum wage rate.

All other apprentices are entitled to the national minimum wage based on their age.


Interns are graduates or students who spend a fixed amount of time working to gain skills and experience in a particular industry or sector. Students often have to do an internship as part of their further or higher education course.

An interns employment rights will depend on their employment status. If they are classed as a worker then they're normally entitled to the national minimum wage. However, if the internship is part of a UK-based further or higher education course (a sandwich course) lasting less than a year then interns are not normally entitled to the National Minimum Wage.

Internships should not be confused with work experience which involves a person spending a limited period with an employer to learn about working life and the working environment.


Volunteers carry out unpaid work for organisations such charities, voluntary organisations or fundraising bodies. Volunteers usually have a volunteering agreement and a role description rather than a contract of employment and a job description. They should receive training and development appropriate to their role.

Volunteers are not entitled to the national minimum wage as they are not paid for their services, but they are often paid their travel and lunch expenses.

Umbrella companies

An umbrella company is a company that will act as an employer to agency contractors who work under a fixed term contract assignment. The umbrella company will normally sign a business-to-business contract with the recruitment agency, and the agency will sign a contract with the client. The agency will invoice the client for completed work, the client pays the agency, and the agency then pays the umbrella company. This money becomes the Umbrella company's income. The umbrella company deducts the necessary tax and NI contributions, including employers NI, and any other deduction necessary, which means the payment will be made through PAYE.